Last evening I had the opportunity to attend a gubernatorial forum comprised of the five Republican candidates vying for the GOP nomination here in Minnesota. Our local party apparatus (State Senate District 35) was able to secure Ramsey City Hall as a meeting place, which was especially convenient given that Ramsey is where I reside.
As is my usual stance, I will not be endorsing any candidate publicly but I nevertheless need to familiarize myself with each potential nominee since I will need to make a personal decision if there ends up being a Republican primary.
Of the five GOP candidates (Matt Dean, Jeff Johnson, Keith Downey, Phillip Parrish and Mary Giuliani Stephens) remaining, it is my belief that Parrish would be the least formidable in the general election. I believed that going into last evening and nothing I heard throughout the forum changed that sentiment. And while I like Downey personally and appreciated his willingness to step up and lead the quagmire that was the Republican Party of Minnesota (he was party chair 2013-2017), attempts to paint him as the "outsider" candidate (a la Donald Trump) are downright laughable.
Among party activists, there seems to be some apprehension with Johnson given he ran as a statewide candidate twice (MN Attorney General in 2006; Governor in 2014) yet was defeated both times. The early front runner seems to be Dean who, from the day after Labor Day through December 1, visited all 87 counties in the state of Minnesota. It's going to be a challenge for the others to match that work ethic. Also, Dean secured a big name endorsement from former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, though I'm not sure that's necessarily a net positive in a general election.
But the one candidate from whom I'd like to hear more is Giuliani Stephens. While I normally eschew identity politics given I attempt to focus solely on policy and general election viability, I believe it would be quite a coup for the Republicans to be the party to produce Minnesota's first female governor. In addition to that, the mayor of Woodbury undeniably has a very intriguing background.
In launching her bid in November, and at our conference table, Stephens described herself as a “bridge builder” who can successfully navigate the partisan divide. In an environment in which strong groups and strong opinions reign, she’s “not tied to any one of them.”
Stephens also emphasizes her ability to get things done and having “the record to prove it” — citing her community’s 2016 ranking among the nation’s best places to live by Money magazine. Fast-growing Woodbury is Minnesota’s ninth-largest community.
The mayor is rare among the candidates with whom we’ve met — in this race and many others — in making a point to list “an understanding of government’s role” among the qualities she brings.
The state Constitution — with its call for a uniform system of public schools and oversight of our public highway system — is a starting point, explains Stephens, a law firm partner who practiced primarily in the area of construction litigation and also has served on the Woodbury City Council.
“Government can’t be everything to everyone,” she told us.
At the end of the day I will be able to enthusiastically support whomever is the GOP candidate for MN governor this year. But in the mean time, I plan on conducting my own personal vetting process via my weekly radio show.